It is time to promote social wholeness with mindful dialogue. The world needs it. Be audacious. Society is waiting.
This is a broad appeal to those working in the area of well-being. Yes, that includes mental health. Best solutions require fully understanding the problem. The problem is one of fragmentation, divisiveness, alienation and—because of this—ultimately, pain. Psychic pain.
Witness recent increases in suicide rates, opioid abuse, obesity, morbidity and mortality in America. Witness growing polarization and negativity in public conversation and political discourse. The divisiveness is just the most recent symptom of a long brewing problem. Treat it as camouflage. Don't be distracted. Get to the audacity of wholeness.
Workplace benefits managers claim that employee mental health issues have grown over the past five years. Stress in the workplace has significantly increased this past year. Young workers today report higher rates of depression than any other generation. Polls suggest stress has increased due to the negativity surrounding and following the most recent election.
A Pandemic. Lumping these together may appear oversimplified. Social and economic forces behind widespread psychic pain are definitely complex. Yet, a new perspective is needed:
the pandemic is a wake-up call
Either-or, black-and-white, dualistic thinking undermines our mental health. One promising sign: more executives are focusing on mental health in health management strategies.
Still, when one’s identity resides on only one side of a polar divide, it is painful to have it called into question. Because of such pain, we can become addicted, treat ourselves badly, hurt ourselves and others. Unfortunately, to defend whatever psychic territory we have left, we can also kill ourselves and others. Hate breeds hate. Violence breeds violence.
and there can be no hate or violence when there is wholeness
Wholeness. Wholeness includes:
Personal wholeness means health and alignment in body, mind, and soul;
Well-being wholeness includes many dimensions of health: physical, mental, spiritual;
Societal wholeness means embracing diversity and multi-cultural values;
Political wholeness means transcending partisan division to serve the civic whole.
Social wholeness means respectful conversation, seeking unity, and using empathy and non-violent communication to resolve conflict.
When children grow up in a society that lacks such wholeness, they can be subject to unhealthy, fundamentalist, prejudice. When educated adults inherit a fragmented society, they can either perpetuate it or they can seek to embody values of wholeness.
We know how to be whole. It is a birthright. We just get caught up in all the noise that emerges when things fragment.
Causes of Fragmentation. Several forces have lead to the current fragmentation. These seem society-based and beyond our individual influence. The erosion of the Sabbath. The rise of electronic media. The shallowness of the Internet and Twitter. The commoditization of health and a “quick fix” mentality. Polarization in politics. The rise of narcissism in the self-help movement to replace the nurturing that may otherwise come from community.
All of these are possible explanations. But, right now, I just want to talk about you and I. What you and I have influence over. Here. On Social Media. In your next conversation.
Collateral Exposure to Negativity. There are three sides to any argument: the two individuals, groups, and parties; and the bystanders who can experience collateral negativity, like second-hand smoke. They wonder if the arguers will get over themselves long enough to get practical solutions in place.
Other bystanders may be less thick-skinned. They carry their own mental troubles, become discouraged, demoralized, alienated, and even hurt. These can include children, your colleagues, others in your social network—near and far. They may even be watching you. They may love that you are willing to stand up and voice your opinion. Or not. And they may think there are more honorable, respectful, and professional ways of disagreeing.
Of course, voicing dissent in mindful ways is a key to positive social change…and…
Reflect. Ask yourself:
Is it easy for me to take sides?
Do I like to argue for the sake of argument?
Do I get some ego boost from making a point?
Do I criticize or disparage any approach that is different from my own in order to prop up my worldview?
A slippery slope runs from criticism, to contempt, to slander, and even to violence. Slippery, especially if you are over-invested in defending your position.
Bottom-Line: Three Moves to Social Wholeness.
You may not believe you can address fragmentation at the societal level. However, we can all address how we speak with each other. And this is especially important if a) you work in the field of health; b) you are an advocate for health and wholeness; or c) you believe that individual well-being is influenced by society and public discourse.
Here are things you can do.
STEP 1: SOFTEN UP
First, consider these three practices to help “soften up” a little.
1. Savor the Little Things. Before jumping into an argument, take one second to reflect on something you saw, heard, read, felt that made you feel a sense of ease. Was it a flower? A joke? Your child’s laugh? Was it a good feeling about someone you like? To savor means to use thoughts and actions to increase the intensity, duration, and appreciation of positive experiences and emotions.
2. Go one step further. Express a sense of thankfulness for something in your life. Something simple. The ability to taste things. To walk. To see. To smile. To listen to music.
3. Moral Humility. Go even one step further. Think for just a few seconds that maybe there are many different perspectives to consider. Your view may be air-tight and well-reasoned and even based in scientific fact. Moral humility means you are willing to see the big picture of humanity’s different perspectives on what is right. And, as a result, you feel a sense of humbleness. Like the flower. Like the child’s laugh. Like knowing that you are a human being like everyone else who may be grateful for their ability to read these words.
STEP 2: BE VIGILANT
Second, consider tactics should you proceed to express your viewpoint. There are two categories: (1) Factors to stay vigilant about and to exercise restraint; and (2) Factors to promote and practice.
4. Watch your “Ain’t it Awful” Thought Form. Some people just like to “awfulize” about the state of America, politics, or religion. This may be especially true among those who get paid to do so. Consider radio talk show hosts on any side of the political or religious spectrum. You don’t have to adopt their viewpoint, hook, line, and sinker. Do you?
5. On Social Media, avoid attacks on people’s character. Avoid arguments that ascribes a motive to another person or seeks to hurt their character. As soon as we attack someone’s character, we make them the “other.” We stop discussing the details of the disagreement. It’s hard to move forward with someone who is the “other.”
6. Don’t Assume Tone from Emails or Texts: without the context of facial expressions and body language, we lose a great deal of important information in discussions. If it’s truly important to discuss, it’s worth giving your full attention to discuss in person if possible.
7. Refrain from Giving your Opinion every time there is an opportunity to do so: It is important to speak you mind, to be open, and to be honest, but make sure you are not badgering everyone around you with a constant litany of opinions that may not even be relevant or valuable.
8. Reflect on What is Said to You Before Responding: Don’t just shoot from the hip. Remember, part of being a good active listener is critically reflecting on what is being said. That might take a second or two before you respond.
9. Address Conflict with Caution: Don’t assume that certain disagreements aren’t potential emotional landmines that can be resolved in purely rational terms. We have a way of wrapping our identities and emotions into even the most ordinary and mundane beliefs and disagreements. Try to always be cognizant of this when entering conflict.
10. Be Careful Not to Interrupt: Sometimes it can be important to politely interject, but if you don’t do it tactfully or if you do it too often, the other person will rightly feel like you are not actively listening.
11. Don’t Text or Email about Important Things, Talk Face-to-Face, Video Chat, or Call: Remember, you want as much information about the other person’s perspective as you can get. If it’s important, it’s probably important enough to talk face-to-face.
Dr. Bennett will be presenting on "The Audacity of Wholeness" at the Annual Conference of the National Wellness Institute on June 21
STEP 3: PRACTICE
12. Monitor and Develop Your Beliefs About Arguments. Here, we can take a cue from research on serial arguments in families. Not all arguments need be stressful, depending on a variety of factors; e.g., your beliefs about whether arguments have practical and protective functions; whether the topics are personal versus public.
13. Develop your Empathetic Side: learn how to connect with others by understanding their perspective and sharing their emotions to the degree that you can. You can’t open yourself emotionally to every situation in life, but if you’re discussing something important, it is probably valuable to empathize with the other person.
14. Respectfully Disagree: Always make sure it is understood by all parties that we can disagree on the particular points of an issue without sliding into personal attacks or thinking of each other in an adversarial way.
15. Don’t Give Up on Talking to People You Disagree With: Sure, for your own mental health, don’t subject yourself to abusive disagreements, but don’t assume that every disagreement will lead to abuse. We have to find ways to disagree respectfully so that we can debate constructively.
16. Volunteer: Don’t underestimate the value of an act of kindness for the recipient, your community, and yourself. Putting yourself out there can help you connect in unique and genuine ways with people you might otherwise have never come across.
17. Become an Active Listener: don’t just bide the time till it’s your turn to talk. Really listen and reflect on what is being said. You need to genuinely understand the other person’s point of view in order to amicably and productively move forward in discussion.
18. Clarify Understanding: In the course of dialogue, try stating the other person’s view and ask if it’s accurate. You may find some nuance that you had previously missed, and the other person will appreciate that you are taking the time to really understand them.
19. Examine Nonverbal Cues, your Own and Others’: Remember, be cognizant of all the information the other person is giving you, not just the explicit verbal information. Again, this can add nuance to your understanding of the other person’s perspective.
This article was a joint effort of OWLS staff: Joel Bennett, Mike Hudson, Brittany Linde, Gale Lucas, Michael Neeper References
- American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress in America: Coping with change. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx
- International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. (2017). Mental health and substance abuse benefits: 2016 survey results. Retrieved from https://www.ifebp.org/pdf/research/mental-health-and-substance-abuse- benefits-2016-survey-results.pdf
- Tavernise, S. (2016, April). U.S. suicide rate surges to a 30-year high. New York Times, April 22, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/health/us-suicide-rate-surges-to-a-30-year-high.html?_r=1
- Case, A., & Deaton, A. (2015). Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(49), 15078-15083.
- Achenbach, J., & Keating, D. (2016, April). A new divide in American death. Washington Post, April 10, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2016/04/10/a-new-divide-in-american-death/
- Quinones, S. (2015). Dreamland: The true tale of America’s opiate epidemic.New York: Bloomsbury Press.
- Sperber, M., & Sperber M. (2011, November). Suicide: Psychache and alienation. Psychiatric Times, November 8, Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/suicide/suicide-psychache-and-alienation
- Kushner, H. I., & Sterk, C. E. (2005). The limits of social capital: Durkheim, suicide, and social cohesion. American Journal of Public Health, 95(7), 1139-1143.
- Johnson, A. J., Kelley, K. M., Liu, S. J., Averbeck, J. M., King, S. D., & Bostwick, E. N. (2014). Family serial arguments: Beliefs about the argument and perceived stress from the argument. Communication Reports, 27(2), 116-128.
- Haidt, J., & Abrams, S. (2015, January). The top 10 reasons American politics are so broken. Washington Post, January 7, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/01/07/the-top- 10-reasons-american-politics-are-worse-than-ever/?utm_term=.5d4a7b0ad413
- Haidt, J. (2012). Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives. https://youtu.be/vs41JrnGaxc